How to convert a single wood pallet into a deep container for growing food. Includes instructions and a video showing how to build a pallet planter and grow in it.
When it comes to container gardening, deeper planters are often better. They retain water better, have more space for roots to grow, and plants grow much better in them. Unfortunately, large planters are often expensive or difficult to source. No matter, because if you have a few tools and access to wood pallets, you can build a pallet planter. Heck, you could create an entire garden of pallet planters, like a mini raised bed garden. They take about an hour to make, and once planted up, can last three to five years before needing to be replaced.
Now more than ever, it’s becoming important to people to grow their own food, even on a small scale. The quickest, easiest, and cheapest way to get started is by starting a container garden. With large planters and recycled containers like the pallet planter, you can be on your way to creating a victory garden at home.
Sourcing a wood pallet
The most important thing you need for this pallet planter project is an actual pallet. You can find them at industrial estates and factories, or sometimes just sat on a curb with refuse. If in doubt, ask before taking them. Here on the Isle of Man, pallets are free and relatively easy to find. Other places are different and depending on demand, can only be purchased. If you’re having difficulty in sourcing a pallet, you can make this project with any planks of untreated wood.
As you can see from the photos, the pallet I’m using has very narrow gaps between the planks. In an ideal world, yours should too, but if not don’t worry. The pallet planter should be lined with landscaping fabric or another material before it’s filled with compost. It will hold the compost in and stop it from eroding through the gaps. Alternatively, you can plant the gaps up like the strawberry pallet planter shown further below.
Wood pallets are used to transport goods from state to state, and from country to country. There’s a real fear of spreading foreign pests and pathogens so wood pallets are either sprayed with Methyl bromide, an insecticide, or heat-treated. The stamps that are present on the side of your pallet will tell you which method was used and you should avoid using pallets treated with MB. Heat-treated is indicated by ‘HT.’ There are a lot of other symbols and numbers present but they’re not as important to know.
Tools and equipment to build a pallet planter
For this project, you’ll need a few tools to cut the pallet wood and reassemble it into a pallet planter. They include:
- Handsaw, jigsaw, or Stihl GTA 26
- Electric screwdriver/drill
- 3″ Decking screws
- Personal protective equipment: goggles, work gloves
how to build a pallet planter
- Wearing hand and eye protection, cut the pallet into three equal pieces. Make cuts in the same places, both front, and back.
- Remove the planks from the reverse sides of each piece. Many will wiggle off but you may need to gently pry them off with the claws of a hammer. Cut the extra planks off the two two end pieces. You’ll need all the scrap pieces of wood for step four.
- Assemble the three pieces into the main sides of the planter, front, back, and bottom. Making pilot holes first, screw the three pieces together.
- Using the smaller planks taken from the reverse side of the pallet, create the two short sides.
Planting the pallet planter
Set the planter where you intend to keep it — once filled, it will be very heavy. To stop compost from eroding from the cracks in the planter, line it with landscaping fabric, or even the plastic bags that compost comes in. Next, fill it with a 50-50 mix of multipurpose compost and rotted/composted farmyard manure. It will take about 175 liters of compost in all, so about three to four standard-sized bags. Water it in, and plant in it immediately.
Pallet planter longevity
If you’re growing edibles in your planter, leave the wood unpainted. There are some soil-friendly exterior paint brands but they’re neither cheap nor widely available. Untreated, the planter will easily last three to five years before you need to replace it with another one.
As for the compost inside, dig it over each time you replant to bring nutrients up to the surface. Mulch with fresh compost each time you replant it too. Because farmyard manure is so rich, you shouldn’t have to empty and refill the entire planter for two to three years.
Growing carrots in the DIY Pallet Planter
The final size of the DIY pallet planter is 15x43x15″ — giving a good depth to grow everything from raspberries, ornamentals, to deep-rooted veg. I’m all about growing food so decided to sow my planter with three rows of ‘Chantenay Royal’ carrot seeds this first year. You can see how many carrots (and what they weighed!) in the follow-up video below but let’s just say that I’m very pleased.
I placed the planter on the patio where it only received about six to seven hours of direct sunlight per day. The mix inside the planter is about 50% well-composted farmyard manure and 50% general-purpose potting mix. I added no additional fertilizers over the growing period. The carrot seeds I sowed thinly in three drills on the top, and when the greens were about six inches tall, I thinned the plants out to about an inch apart. Regular, if not daily watering, and this harvest is the product of a summer of growing.
Strawberry Pallet Planter
Years ago I shared how to build a better strawberry pallet planter, and I’ve used the same basic principle in this idea. If your pallet has large gaps between the planks, you can plant lettuces, greens, and yes, even strawberry plants between them. You can either use straw to fill in the empty spaces in the gaps or cut holes through the landscaping fabric lining and plant through them. For even more ideas for starting a garden, browse these pieces on Lovely Greens.